Tag Archives: literature

Alice in Wonderland “Drink Me” Bottle Decoration

Day Nine of my 12 Days of Bookish Crafts Blogmas and I bring you this Alice in Wonderland Drink Me ornament which would be perfect for hanging on a tree.

This is a really easy craft project as it doesn’t take any degree of skill, just collection of parts for assembly, and you can tweak the final look very easily depending on the materials you use. My current decoration is a really budget friendly version, an upcycled empty glycerine bottle, a snippet of cheap ribbon and some craft ribbon roses. But with a pretty glass bottle, a nice quality ribbon and some dried rosebuds you could make a nice bookish bottle present for someone, and I might actually experiment with making a more up market version one day.

To make an Alice in Wonderland Drink Me decoration you will need:

  • A small bottle
  • An ornate key (affiliate link, but mine came from this pack)
  • Some red roses
  • Ribbon with a chess board check pattern
  • String
  • Paper
  • A black pen
  • Glue
  • Scissors

How to make an Alice in Wonderland Drink Me Bottle

  1. Make sure that your bottle is clean and dry – I used an empty Dr Oetker glycerine bottle that I had left from making a sensory bottle for the baby, they are pretty cheap in most supermarkets – and fill this with the red roses.
  2. Add your ornate key to the string and loosely tie to the bottle neck so that it will have the appearance of hanging slightly seperately from the bottle when displayed. Leave long ends loose to use for hanging on a tree should you wish to use this as a Christmas ornament.
  3. Tie the ribbon in a bow around the neck of the bottle to disguise the string. If it’s likely to be fiddled with by small children, I’d recommend securing the bow in place with a stitch through the knot.
  4. Write “drink me” on a piece of paper and glue to the bottle.

It really is as easy as that.

Circe by Madeline Miller, a review

“He showed me his scars, and in return he let me pretend that I had none.”

Circe by Madeline Miller

I was a huge fan of Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles (read my review here) so you can imagine I was thrilled when I received a copy of her new book Circe to help while away the hours while I waited for my very overdue baby while I was on maternity leave earlier this year.

In Miller’s retelling of the Circe from Homer’s Odyssey, Circe is the unloved daughter of Helios, the Titan sun god, and Perse, a sea nymph. Overlooked by her mother for lacking the beauty that might secure her a marriage to a god, and thus her mother’s social standing, she is left to her own devices and mocked by her more attractive siblings. When the abandoned brother she has raised from infancy rejects her too, she is desperate for any affection and discovers that she has the power of witchcraft. But this sees her banished from her father’s palace and placed on an island in complete isolation, where she truly comes to know herself and her power.

While I very much enjoyed reading Circe, and Miller’s writing is on point as always, I thought it was interesting that it was branded as a feminist retelling of the Greek myth. For me, even throughout Miller’s version, much of our perception of Circe is derived from her interactions with the male characters. We see Circe’s struggle to find her place in her powerful and abusive father’s court; the terror she strikes into Glaucus, the human she falls in love with but who abandons her when she gifts him divinity; Apollo who takes her as a lover, but for the novelty more than anything else; the men who rape her and set her on her course of turning men into pigs…the only men she feels comfortable with are brilliant humans like Daedalus and Odysseus, but even then her relationships with those are complicated by the existence of their sons. Even when she seems to achieve a degree of freedom, it is always the result of having to bargain with the male world, I suppose that you could argue that that’s the system that every woman operates within but even when Penelope comes onto the scene and in scenes with Parsiphae, I’m not convinced that Circe would pass the Bechdel test.

As for the happy ending that Circe is said to receive in both myth and this retelling, her character certainly deserves it. But I couldn’t help but feel that it was another example of her giving something away for a man.

Oh and if this leaves you wondering, as I always have, “How do you say Circe?” The correct Greek pronunciation would be Kirky, but Miller says that she finds Sirsee to be more accessible to the modern reader.

Michael Gove- The Little Grey Man of Literature

Michael Gove- the little grey man of literature Image by new3dom3000 under creative commons

I tweeted a few days ago that Michael Gove’s reforms to the English GCSE curriculum reminded me of Putin’s Literary Canon pronouncements a few years back– nationalistic, narrow-minded and reductive. For anyone who hasn’t heard, the head of OCR’s head of GCSE and A-level reform claims that Michael Gove has personally intervened to ensure that where novels like Of Mice and Men and To Kill A Mockingbird would have originally been studied, students will now be examined on a work of fiction or drama originating from the British Isles since 1914.

I am deeply concerned that the education secretary has been allowed to interfere in the English Literature curriculum without consultation with teachers and universities about this. There is no university department which teaches an English Literature degree without reference to writers from outside the UK, for the simple reason that literature is not something which is restricted by geographical borders- it is designed to challenge and breakdown barriers, not to reinforce them in such an arbitrary and mindless way.

And, to steal David Cameron’s favourite phrase, let us be perfectly clear, while there are plenty of students who could and would engage with the works of Jane Austen and Dickens, there are plenty of students who would find the language and volume of reading a struggle. Lower ability students will be penalised as they will require extra support to access the lexis, syntax and context of these novels in the limited contact time that they have with their teachers. So this latest reform will do to the novel what his plans to have primary school children learning and reciting poetry by rote will do- turn more and more students off Literature.

Students used to ask me why I chose to study English Lit at university- and I would tell them it was because I couldn’t decide what subject to study. When studied properly, literature allows you to study history, psychology, sociology, philosophy, politics, religion… it broadens the mind. That’s what worries me about this latest announcement, it’s so incredibly reductive it makes me wonder if Gove isn’t one of those little grey men from Michael Ende’s Momo, ripping the colour and fun out of education for every child in the country because they are at odds with his personal values.

Whatever he is, he’s a very dangerous man.

Literature Spotting in Central Park

If you ever drop in on my Twitter account, you’ll know that I was in New York for work last week. Working with jet lag was… interesting, fun but very hard work concentrating. The upshot was that my hotel was very close to Central Park so I went wandering there in the afternoons after work and spent most of Saturday marching around from landmark to landmark, from The Mall to The Conservatory Water (via the zoo…). I loved Central Park and could wax lyrical about how amazing I thought it was for hours (pops up in so many books as well) but I won’t instead I will share with you some of the literary statues I managed to track down using a Central Park Map I printed before I went.

Central Park Alice in Wonderland Statue with Children

Alice in Wonderland Statue- Memorial to Margarita Delacorte

Central Park Hans Christian Andersen Statue

Hans Christian Andersen Statue

Central Park The Mall Burns

Robert Burns Statue on The Mall

Central Park The Mall Halleck

Fitz-Greene Halleck Statue on The Mall

Central Park The Mall Shakespeare

William Shakespeare Statue on The Mall

Central Park The Mall Scott

Walter Scott Statue on The Mall

I tried getting to The Shakespeare Garden and hunting down the Romeo and Juliet statue on the Saturday but unfortunately that whole area was fenced off for an Alicia Keys/Stevie Wonder concert that I didn’t have a ticket for… did I miss anything else?

Quote me on that… Romance

Firework

Image adapted from original of NigelHowe of Flickr under terms of creative commons license

A beautiful passage from a brilliant book which sprung into my mind today. If you haven’t read The Passion by Jeanette Winterson, you really, really must.

Quote me on that… people who sneer at fiction

pleasure in a good novel Austen

Picture courtesy of ShutterHack on Flickr

Facebook is pretty annoying, but when you take out the equation the big, worse-than-annoying stuff you see (racism, homophobia, etc.) by unfriending people, one of the most annoying things I’ve ever seen was someone who wrote in their favourite books section: “I don’t read fiction, I prefer to spend my time on things which actually have some relevance in the world.”

I had to count to ten. And breathe deeply. And swore anyway.

It really annoys me when people just dismiss books as being trivial. They aren’t. This is why books are still banned and still get burned. People are scared of the ideas they contain because they have meaning and power. But you’ve no doubt heard this all before so I will leave you with an appropriate put down from Jane Austen, which you must deliver in your best impersonation of Downton Abbey’s Lady Grantham the next time you see someone utter something so dismissive.

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

 

Quote me on that…Gatsby parties

thanks to Clotho98 on Flickr for letting me use this image

thanks to Clotho98 on Flickr for letting me use this image

Or to give the quote in full:

Anyhow, he gives large parties,” said Jordan, changing the subject with an urban distaste for the concrete. “And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.

The Great Gatsby F Scott Fitzgerald

Call me morally bankrupt, but I could quite fancy going to a Great Gatsby party, just once… thought I did read a brilliant article on The Atlantic about “the sublime cluelessness of throwing lavish Gatsby parties” which said “it’s a bit like throwing a Lolita-themed children’s birthday party.”

So, I won’t be throwing my own. But if you happen to be planning one, be sure to invite me.

 

My Top 5 Fictional Badgers #teambadger

Image by BadgerHero, used under the terms of Wikimedia Commons License

Badgers remind me of my childhood. Mysterious woodland animals who usually played a noble role in fiction, defending the weak, standing up for what was right… They remind me of more innocent days in my naive youth. A time when I believed that a democratically elected government had to listen to the views of the people, or, if they insisted upon taking a paternalistic approach, the mainstream of scientific opinion… you know, silly things like that…

Given the UK government’s current foray into badger fiction* (fiction in the sense that they are flying in the face of the facts/a ten-year independent scientific study into badgers and Bovine TB) I thought I would share my top five badgers in actual fiction.

 

1. The Badger Lords of the Redwall Series  by Brian Jacques

I was obsessed with the Redwall Series by the late, great Brian Jacques when I was small. I’ve always had a fondness for rodents. The Redwall books are a little like what Lord of the Rings might be if you take out the magic and replace hobbits, dwarves and orcs with mice, squirrels and wildcats.  My favourite characters always the badgers and the mice. Though the badgers are noble characters, they suffer from bloodwrath which turns their eyes red, the sign of a great warrior who will not hold back or even be able to restrain themselves in the heat of battle.

2. Badger in The Animals of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann

If you’re of a similar age to me, you’ll probably remember The Animals of Farthing Wood as a television series in which a diverse group of woodland animals  who are threatened by man’s interference in their wood, form a motley crew and journey to the safety of a woodland reserve. It doesn’t look as though this will go ahead, due to the smaller animals natural fear of the carnivores eating them, until Badger suggests they take an oath of mutual protection. It’s a very nice story about understanding other people’s limitations and supporting them (Badger carries Mole on his back because he can only walk very slowly). Someone should also read it to the Environment Secretary because it makes the point that animals under threat migrate.

3. Tommy Brock The Tale of Mr Tod Beatrix Potter

Now Tommy Brock is a very naughty badger, the kind of badger you could imagine the government wanting to do something about. Don’t be fooled by his smart waistcoat and downturned gaze. This is the kind of badger who would steal a nest of baby rabbits and hides them in Mr Tod’s oven. Now you might say that badgers don’t commonly eat rabbits in the wild. To that I say, foxes don’t commonly own ovens. We’re suspending our disbelief here. Suspended? Thank you. Many people love Beatrix Potters “good characters” but I’ve always had a soft spot for the villains. Yes, I prefer Samuel Whiskers to Tom Kitten, and I salute Tommy Brock for stealing the baby rabbits and making everyone wonder why Benjamin Bunny decided to sire a family with his first cousin Flopsy. Well, that’s rabbits for you.

4. Mr Badger The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graeme

I admire any badger that wears a dressing gown, and the solitary Mr Badger may have attempted to stage one of the first interventions in literature when he tried to dissuade Toad from his path of self-destruction by placing him under house arrest. Interestingly, Badger and Mole are driven out of Toad Hall by a crew of stoats and weasels. Did you know that the TB virus can survive for a very long time in empty badger setts, infecting any badgers which move into the area. Interestingly, since rats and weasels move into Toad Hall, rats, weasels and ferrets can also carry the disease. As can foxes. And deer… shoot anything that moves will be next.

5. Trufflehunter Prince Caspian C S Lewis

This Old Narnian badger rescues Prince Caspian and hides him when he is fleeing from his evil, murderous Uncle Miraz. As a good and true Narnian, he surely lives on in Aslan’s Country, the true Narnia. But you have to wonder what fate lies in store for less vocal members of the meles meles if the government proceed with this madness.

 

Honourable mention should go to Bill of Rupert the Bear fame and Captain Ramshackle of Automated Alice but I felt that we had one randomologist too many in the form of Owen Paterson at this time.

* Even if your name isn’t Sherlock, you will notice that I have used this post on fictional badgers to ram home my views on the cull. I make no apology for that, it is madness. A ten-year study has shown that culling will not solve the problem of Bovine TB. It may in fact make it worse as studies showed TB decreasing in cull zones but rapidly increasing in surrounding areas. 92% of the surveyed British public are against the culls so both the scientists and the people the government have been elected to represent are being ignored.

If you’re a UK resident and as annoyed about this as I am please sign this petition. It’s already been debated once and the cull was postponed. Hopefully a second debate will see the cull cancelled altogether and Bovine TB managed through vaccination, improved husbandry and better biosecurity.

The Girl With The Glass Feet by Ali Shaw

the girl with the glass feetI’ve just finished reading The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw which was one of the books I was given for Christmas and I’m in two minds about it.

On the one hand it’s an impressive debut novel with characterisation which grips and shakes you as it touches on the lives of a diverse group of people who are connected by their experiences in an metaphorically incestuous community on the remote island of St Hauda’s Land.

On the other, the narrative weaves these stories together as if they should lead the reader somewhere and I don’t see the point in a red herring outside of crime fiction. For me, they only detract from the story being told here. It’s as if Shaw hasn’t decided whether he’s writing a fairytale or a story which contains magic realism. It might seem trivial, irrelevant even, but to me they are very different genres and while I’m in favour of a little generic cross dressing, I think that these genres can’t be fairly combined without creating a story which isn’t entirely satisfactory.

If we take Ida’s feet as the main story and bring with that the associated stories of Midas’ father, Henry Fuwa and Midas’ mother, Carl Maulsen and his obsession with Freya… good, you’ve got a great story and it’s worth reading the book for this. But then you look at the extra touches that have been thrown in and they become red herrings which, if the story was a fairytale, should lead to resolution and, if it is intended as magic realism, begin to look like little more than creative conceits. What, for example, is the point of the constant references to the creature which turns everything it looks at white? What is the point of Midas’ father’s letter? By the time I finished the book, I felt underwhelmed by what should have been a really moving conclusion because I was still waiting to see why the author had devoted so much attention to writing about these details which were never revisited.

In addition to that, I think the book as a whole could have done with a harder edit. The language is more flowery than is generally fashionable these days, leading to passages such as this which made me roll my eyes:

“Overnight the head of a fat old rose in Catherine’s had shed petals like burnt bits of ribbon into a glass vase. Midas stared sadly at the warped red planets in the water’s cosmos and thought of Ida’s legs.”

I can’t believe that got past an editor without a request to slash either the simile or the metaphor. But worse for me was the inclusion of occasional mistakes which should have been picked up by anyone who read the final draft of the book. For example, on page 81 of my copy, Denver is described as “a mouse-haired seven-year-old with a grin full of disorganized teeth” then on page 82 as “an earnest child with a whizz of ginger hair, eyes too big for her freckled face and newly grown adult teeth overlapping like a hand of cards”. Why do we have the double description of her teeth, let alone the conflicting descriptions of her hair colour only a page apart?

This will seem very petty, but the litter of awkwardly flowery language and silly oversights, coupled with unnecessary red herrings and plot holes really did detract from my enjoyment of what was otherwise a really imaginative story with great potential.

Have you read this book? How did you feel about these points?